I've just come back from the Spanish Sunshine Tour. It's a five week tour, and by tour they don't mean different loc
This is something of a mouthful, so that's why we all call it the Sunshine Tour!
This year the Sunshine Tour really lived up to this name, as the weather was fantastic. Just because it's Spain doesn't mean this is always the case, and in some previous years we've had to compete in heavy downpours.
But we had brilliant weather for most of the five weeks, and now all the riders are sporting their new tans, and the horses are showing their summer coats. Following the five weeks both horses and riders are fit for the season ahead, which is really the purpose of this trip for most of us.
The great thing about this venue is that there are so many classes and it caters for all levels. Monday is a day off and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday there's young horse classes only - five yr-olds jumping 1m15, six yr-olds 1m25 and seven yr-olds 1m35 maximum.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday comprise what's called the Big and Small Tour. The Small Tour has four categories and ranges from maximum fence heights of 1m10 to 1m40. This is ideal for young riders or amateurs, and many top riders, including myself, use the Small Tour to give their clients some experience of international jumping which might not be available elsewhere.
Ireland were very well represented in this category this year with Thomas O'Brien, Joanne Sloan-Allen and Frank Curran all winning 1m40 classes. Additionally, Frank Curran was second in the Small Tour Grand Prix Final on the last Sunday of the Tour with a fantastic double clear aboard his father's "Pepp".
Luckily for me, all three were pupils of mine and as they went so well, I'm not out of a job yet!
Like the Small Tour, the Big Tour has four categories, with fence heights ranging from 1m35 to 1m55. The Irish contingent had several victories over the five weeks, with wins scored by Dave Quigley, Paul O'Shea, myself and Billy Twomey. However, the thinking of the top riders is that this is basically a build-up to the season ahead, more than hot competition to win trophies and prize money. I mean, it's a long year and we all want our horses to peak in the summer, so we use Spain to do what we frequently don't get time to do - which is train them in the ring.
By that I mean being able to try out different bridles, different pace, different stride patterns and so forth, so essentially by the end of five weeks if you do it properly your horses should be healthy and sound, then after a few weeks' break they're ready for serious international competition.